Paul Bongiorno: The vibe is killing the Voice … just as Peter Dutton intended

The Voice to Parliament, supported by Albanese and opposed by Dutton, is in danger of failing.

The Voice to Parliament, supported by Albanese and opposed by Dutton, is in danger of failing. Photo: AAP/TND

Just an hour before the Prime Minister drove to Government House to witness the Governor-General issue the writs for the October 14 referendum, the Leader of the Opposition urged that the whole project be abandoned.

Peter Dutton, in one of the most shameless exhibitions of gaslighting, blamed Anthony Albanese for mishandling what he disingenuously called the “Canberra Voice”.

Dutton said the referendum “will not be the moment of unity the 1967 referendum delivered” and he asked the Prime Minister if he would withdraw his “divisive referendum” so that “we can avoid an outcome which sets back reconciliation and divided the nation”.

In April, when the Leader of the Opposition committed his party to formally reject the referendum proposal, formulated at Uluru after a national process of consultation among First Peoples responding to an invitation from Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott, the dye was cast.

The good vibe that greeted Anthony Albanese’s election night promise to “implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full” this term was no longer above politics.

The simple idea that the Constitution needed to remedy the exclusion of any acknowledgement that First Peoples even existed or had a place in the new Commonwealth suddenly became a Dutton versus Albanese battleground.

The “unfinished” constitutional business John Howard talked about in the run up to the 2007 election was translated by Dutton into the business of taking whatever shine he could off the Labor prime minister.

It is no accident that six months of opinion polling since then has seen a steady erosion of support as Dutton’s opposition played a significant part in unleashing an ugly subterranean hostility towards Indigenous people.

The national vibe now is to say No

A stark example of this is the decision of the AFL to exclude its support for the Yes position from any mention at this year’s grand final.

Church leaders who before Dutton made the referendum a federal Liberal versus Labor affair publicly supported it, have now retreated.

The Catholic Church’s Plenary Council last year committed to the full implementation of the Uluru Statement, but Catholic bishops recently pronounced Catholics were free to vote whatever way they wanted.

Of course they can, that is not the point.

Remedying the unjust exclusion and enduring lack of respect for those who were dispossessed is the point – a very Catholic thing to do in light of Pope Francis and the imperative to reach out to those on the margins.

RedBridge pollster Kos Samaras says his findings are well beyond the margin of error, with 61 per cent of Australians opposed to the Voice while just 39 per cent are in favour.

The alignment of major corporations like Coles, Woolworths and Qantas with the Yes campaign is feeding into the No vibe.

Voters in the suburbs struggling to pay their supermarket bills resent the giant retailers at the same time reporting massive profits, according to Samaras.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s legal action against Qantas for selling tickets for 8000 flights it had already cancelled further trashed the airline’s already damaged reputation.

In Parliament, the Opposition directly asked Albanese if Qantas support for the Yes campaign was a factor in blocking Qatar Airways from more flights to our major airports.

Albanese pointed to Qantas’s long record of campaigning for reconciliation and recognition.

Corporates a liability

How the vibe has flipped; having major corporates as sponsors has become a huge liability.

The Roy Morgan organisation that tracks companies’ standings in its survey last week found that Australians have never been more distrusting of corporate Australia.

The Resolve Poll in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Monday had a similar dire result to RedBridge: 43 per cent support, 57 per cent opposed.

Resolve’s director Jim Reed told the papers there were no signs the campaigning, including adopting John Farnham’s anthem You’re the Voice is boosting Yes.

It seems the campaigning has the opposite effect.

Reed says: “The more people engage in the debate, the more they consider the proposal, the more they are put off.”

Albanese admitted on Monday that he misread Peter Dutton’s intentions on the referendum, wrongly believing the appointment of Julian Leeser as shadow minister for Indigenous affairs was a signal the Liberal leader was on board.

Leeser after all, as Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson pointed out on Sunday, played a significant role in shaping a “conservative” referendum proposal.

Dutton dramatically changed tack, as we saw, forcing Leeser to go to the backbench to campaign for the Voice, his place taken by a fierce opponent of the referendum Jacinta Nampijinpa Price.

Noel Pearson described as his “worst nightmare” Australians slapping aside the hand of friendship offered at Uluru.

He said: “I just don’t believe Australians are capable of that at this time in our history.”

The signs aren’t promising.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with more than 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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